Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1680

Microsoft's Xbox has a unique history; it was the first console to merge a PC's architecture with a console's form factor and interface. Its successor, the Xbox 360, continues the trend of having a unique history by making its first public debut on MTV. In what amounted to essentially a 30-minute advertisement on MTV, Microsoft very briefly introduced the new console and gave a sneak peak at some of its specifications as well as the games that would be running on the new platform.

The MTV special was hardly technical; in fact, it seemed as if the editors did their best to tune down any sort of technical slant to the special as best as possible in order to avoid alienating their target audience - the mainstream, non-gaming market. In order for Microsoft to attain the level of success they desire with Xbox 360, it has to be much more than just a console for gamers, it has to expand the potential user base considerably.

Features like an all-wireless controller setup make the console even more mainstream fit - most people hate cables, and minimizing cable clutter is definitely a step in the right direction for the new console. From what we've heard through industry insiders, the wireless controllers appear to charge via a USB cable connected to the Xbox 360 unit itself.

We've spent the first part of 2005 talking about the move to dual and multi-core processors on the desktop, and the Xbox 360 does not stray from the path set before it. While Microsoft hasn't officially revealed the processor specifications for the Xbox 360, they did mention that the new Xbox 360 offers "more than one teraflop of system-floating point performance" driven by a "three-core PowerPC-based CPU." There are many rumors about the clock speed and nature of the PowerPC based cores, but most seem to indicate that they are some sort of derivative of the PPE that is in the Cell processor. Clock speeds have been rumored to be around 3.2GHz for the multi-core CPU, and given that Xbox 360 is expected to launch this year it will most likely be built on a 90nm process. The CPU will be able to execute 6 simultaneous threads, meaning that each of the three PowerPC cores is multi-threaded - once again a similarity to Cell's PPE. We will hopefully be getting more confirmation on the CPU architecture behind Xbox 360 at E3 next week.

The system is outfitted with ATI's next generation GPU, R5xx class, connected to a shared 512MB of system memory. Note that Microsoft is stating that the Xbox 360 offers "more than" 512MB of total memory, which means that the rumors of the ATI GPU having around 10MB of embedded DRAM are most likely true. This isn't ATI's first GPU design with embedded DRAM; the Flipper GPU that was used in Nintendo's Gamecube featured a full 3MB of embedded DRAM. The GPU features "48 ALU pipes" but ATI/Microsoft haven't elaborated beyond that.

The combination of the CPU and GPU in the Xbox 360 already make it a more powerful gaming machine than any PC out today, but as always the balance between PC and console gaming is an ever-shifting struggle. What the Xbox 360 will do however is accelerate the development of multithreaded games, some of which will hopefully make their way to the PC as well.

The CPU (and presumably the GPU) is cooled by a water cooled heatsink and twin fans. The motherboard is built on a 4-layer PCB, which is to be expected from a cost standpoint. Despite the trend away from Windows/PC architecture, the Xbox 360 does appear to still be very computer-like inside.

Contrary to popular belief, it does appear that the hard drive is back in the Xbox 360 and Microsoft is specifically referring to it as a "detachable" hard drive. Given the size of the Xbox 360, we'd assume that it will use a 2.5" drive, compared to the 3.5" drive that was included in the original Xbox. Given how much platter densities and spindle speeds have improved since the original Xbox was launched, the new drive shouldn't have a problem being faster than the original drive that shipped with the Xbox - despite its smaller form factor.

There was no mention of a multi-tiered launch, meaning that it looks like there will only be one Xbox 360 introduced later this year - hard drive included. The inclusion of a hard drive is particularly important for the modders out there, as it does give hope that even the Xbox 360 will be as hackable/moddable as the current Xbox is.

The console itself appears to be significantly smaller than the original Xbox, which was a complaint by many upon the Xbox's initial debut. The Xbox 360 will have removable face plates to offer some level of physical customization, although the finished product does look quite sleek.

Also from the videos it does appear that the new wireless controllers are smaller than even the reduced size Xbox S-type controllers.

HD Everywhere

The most welcome requirement of the Xbox 360? That all games must support 720p.

The Xbox 360 was undoubtedly made for HDTVs, with all games supporting 720p, you will truly be missing out without a HDTV. The support for 720p in all games is quite important as it marks the first time that a game console will have games that renders frames internally at resolutions greater than 640x480. The resolution gap between PC and console gaming has been huge, remembering that 640x480 was a resolution that PC gamers were enjoying back in the Voodoo1 days. Especially on larger TVs, the very low resolution of 640x480 is even more pronounced - but with Xbox 360 (and presumably, Sony's Playstation 3) the days of low resolution gaming on large screens is over.

The MTV special started with a 3D rendered performance of the band - The Killers. The rendered graphics of that performance were better than anything we've seen on the PC thus far, even better than what we've seen in tech demos by ATI and NVIDIA. Not surprising given the level of the GPU in the Xbox 360, there was only a short part of the performance that was 3D rendered but it was quite convincing.

In a stroke of genius, Microsoft managed to demo their first console with a minimum of 720p support on a standard definition cable channel. It looks like we'll have to wait for E3 to see the Xbox 360 in its 720p glory.

ugh...displaying a 720p game over SD cable

The rest of the games demoed looked extremely PC like, thanks to their 720p resolution. Of course we won't see the best use of the Xbox 360 hardware (in particular the physics capabilities of that 3-core PowerPC CPU) until well after the console has launched. Until then, we will most likely have to rely on fancy graphics and extensive online support as the main attractions to the new console.

Always Connected and Never Modded?

One of Microsoft's very clever tactics with the Xbox 360 is the inclusion of a multi-tiered Xbox Live service. For those that aren't familiar with it, Xbox Live is Microsoft's online gaming network for Xbox owners. Priced at around $50 per year, Xbox Live will let you play Xbox Live enabled games against gamers all over the world. With the Xbox 360, Microsoft is introducing two tiers of Xbox Live subscription: Gold and Silver.

The Gold tier will apparently be similar to what people are paying for today, with all of the new features brought forth by Xbox 360 (e.g. better matchmaking capabilities, more downloadable content, etc...).

The Silver tier is a free option to all Xbox 360 users that Microsoft says will offer the following:

"Players can express their digital identity through their Gamer Profile; connect with friends anytime, anywhere through Xbox Live voice chat; send and receive text and voice message; and access Xbox Live Marketplace to download demos and trailers along with new game levels, maps, weapons, vehicles, skins, classic arcade and card and board games, community-created content, and more to the detachable Xbox 360 hard drive — all right out of the box at no extra cost. Composed of user-generated information such as Achievements (rewards players have earned in games), Gamerzone (style of play), and a custom-created Gamertile (a visual icon to represent the gamer online), the Gamer Profile makes it easy to connect with the Xbox Live community."

So basically, the Silver tier will let you download some new content, trailers, chat with friends and give you an avatar among other things. But what's interesting is that Xbox Live Silver will most likely also be used to prevent people from hacking/modding the xbox 360. The current Xbox can be modded to run just about anything - from Linux, to working as a media center to running pirated games. There is one major exception - Microsoft checks a number of items about your Xbox when you login to Xbox Live to make sure it isn't modded; if it is, you can't connect. By offering a free Xbox Live service to all users, Microsoft is trying their best to combat the mainstream market from modding their Xbox 360s - however in order for the ploy to truly work Microsoft really needs to make the Silver tier more attractive. But then again, maybe Microsoft isn't concerned about the limited modding community and is more interested in making sure it doesn't spread modding mainstream as it takes the Xbox 360 more mainstream.

The other limitation to the Xbox 360 modding community will be the fact that all Xbox 360 games are supposed to be Live-enabled. If the more compelling features of future titles revolve around Xbox Live, modding interest in this new console may be further diminished but by no means dead.

The new Xbox 360 controllers feature a "360 button" in the center, that will act as sort of a "home" button - taking you to a screen where you can launch games, view messages from your online buddies, get access to downloadable content, etc... Microsoft brought a console to market with the first Xbox, but with Xbox 360 they are really trying to build another flexible machine to have in your home, supported by and working with your PC.

The Xbox 360 will accept images from your digital camera, movies and music either through its USB ports or (presumably) over the network.

Final Words

There's a lot more to this powerful new console, and we will be covering it as well as the hardware behind Sony's Playstation 3 during next week's E3 expo in Los Angeles.

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